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Indian Muslim groups urge followers to shun protests over anti-Islam comments

The message follows violence at earlier demonstrations against remarks by members of the governing Hindu-nationalist party seen as insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
/ Source: Reuters

MUMBAI, India — Leaders of prominent Islamic groups and mosques in India appealed to fellow Muslims on Monday to suspend plans for demonstrations against derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad made by two members of the governing Hindu-nationalist party.

The message to avoid big gatherings was circulated after demonstrations took a violent turn last week, leading to the death of two Muslim teenagers and the wounding of more than 30 people, including police officers.

“It is the duty of every Muslim to stand together when anyone belittles Islam, but at the same time it is critical to maintain peace,” said Malik Aslam, a senior member of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, a Muslim organization that operates in several Indian states.

Early this month, two senior members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made remarks that offended Muslims. A party spokeswoman made the offending comment in a television debate and a party spokesman on social media.

The party suspended both of them and said it denounced any insult toward any religion, and police have also filed cases against the two, but that did not stop enraged Muslims taking to the streets in protest.

Police arrested at least 400 people on suspicion of rioting during unrest in several states, and curfews were imposed and internet services were suspended in some places.

Many Muslims in India have been questioning their place in society since Modi came to power in 2014, playing down his roots in a powerful Hindu-nationalist group with which his party is affiliated.

Critics say his BJP has pursued a confrontational line, promoting the idea that India is a Hindu nation in what many see as an attempt to marginalize Muslims, who make up 13 percent of India’s billion-plus population.

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Authorities in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on Sunday demolished the home of a Muslim man linked to the riots, drawing condemnation of the state government, led by the BJP, from constitutional experts and rights groups.

Muslims and rights groups interpreted the destruction of the house as punishment for the riots, but state authorities said it was because it was illegally built on public land.

Modi has not commented on the anti-Islam remarks that set off the protests even as condemnation grows abroad.

Countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Iran, important trade partners for India, have lodged diplomatic protests.